. The Politics of the Psyche | London Progressive Journal
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The Politics of the Psyche

Tue 7th Feb 2012

BBC 4’s Saturday night primetime slot is cornering the market in excellent European drama. It is as far removed from the usual terrestrial cop-based genre series as Family Fortunes is from QI. The UK simply hasn’t seen anything of remotely this quality since House of Cards.

But whereas former Tory MP Michael Dobbs who wrote the latter used it as a highly amusing and entertaining vehicle for his very right-wing agenda, the recent BBC 4 offerings take their starting point from telling intriguing stories, foregoing any biased point-scoring. If a character expresses socio-political views, it’s not a diatribe to justify or convert, but comes from consistency.

Saturday nights now present us with a series of ten-parters, each week featuring two episodes back-to-back, and effectively combining genre with totally believable characters we actually care about, whether we agree with them or not. So in form, we get a protracted and resolved story like America’s 24, but with the added bonus of complex behaviour that isn’t just a plot device.

Because the writing is so fiendishly clever, we really don’t know where to pin our alliances from one week to the next. Tension runs all the way through, making the series a must-see, as the soaring ratings prove -- even for a channel in the throes of digital changeover and inconsistent reception.

Luckily the Beeb has gifted us with the iPlayer, so we techno-nerds can watch the stuff that BT’s ruined.

Otherwise we might have missed Denmark’s remarkable police series The Killing. That one featured unassuming cop Sarah Lund who applied to tortuous crime the kind of Sherlock/Colombo mind, sharper than vinegar and just as curative. She took risks, sometimes most unwisely, but never for self-promotion, or some Lethal Weapon mania. A seminal sub-plot directly tied in the investigation to political hanky-panky.

The latest Danish offering, just ended, was Borgen – already promising a second series next year. This one focused on a political setting [Borgen being the affectionate name for Christiansborg Palace, the seat of Parliament.] It too stars a woman, this time as Prime Minister Birgitte Nyborg. But she’s not the token female star, her sometime nemesis being Katrine Fønsmark a crack television anchor who does far more than follow an autocue.

Certainly what characterises this Danish smorgasbord is superb acting, sensitive direction, and scripts that rival Aaron Sorkin’s incisive West Wing. But where such excellent Euro-drama scores highest is its quota for extrapolation. We don’t have to be a detective or the head of state to identify with the emotional effects of these people’s lives and of those around them.

What both Borgen and The Killing depict are gradations of impotence, even for those wielding the most power. In a society like ours which has increasingly become defined by the abuse of power, is it any wonder that the farther we are removed from its centre, the more powerless we feel.

This is as true in the home as at work. In Borgen the Prime Minister tries to achieve a work/life balance so her highly intelligent, not to mention sexy, partner can suppress any resentment at being a house-husband. The fact that the effects on him are those far more often felt by housewives, however ambitious and intelligent, only proves the point.

By the same token Katrine’s growing disappointment at her boss’s decisions to bow to political pressures in the newsroom, back her into a professional corner. Her ability to live out her ideals in a job she treasures can only lead in one direction if she is to master her own fate.

But hey! We don’t need Denmark to point out how impotent we feel. However idealistic were its ancient Roman origins, the UK’s version of representative democracy has become as distorted as a burning pillar of wax. We can never overcome this pervasive anomie by trying to make sense of the empty rhetoric spouted by politicians.

Did you hear that airhead Mitt Romney’s whip-it-up speech last weekend? All the schmuck has to say is, “I believe in America,” to trigger thunderous applause. He might as well say, “I believe in water,” for all it really means.

But election after so-called free and fair election, the people think they understand. He – and all the rest of them – are saying zilch. But the fans are hearing whatever they want to hear to make them feel they’re not alone. But in the middle of the lonely night – hey, you know something ain’t right.

Why, the Con-Dems ask - in order to justify spending many ££ on fruitless enquiries of decisive delay … why did people feel they “had to” participate in last summer’s riots. Why do all those people feel they “have to” Occupy the streets. And that’s the toughest of all, because the range of Occupiers defies the usual categorization by age, class, race, and political sympathies.

One of the favourite phrases of the power elite in dismissing the powerless is, “he/she’s not one of us.”

So gosh, you Occupiers! When we see clergy camped out alongside the “commoners,” we can’t castigate the church. Can we? They’re supposed to be one of us? Aren’t they?

It’s not the banker/wanker equation that underpins this growing global disengagement. Angry? Of course we’re bloody angry! But even in the unlikely event that Hester’s bonus rejection begets a trend in the City, even then, this is not a money thing.

It’s about self-worth. Or rather the lack of it. Please don’t talk to me about elections, and how if we don’t like something we can vote it out, or share-holder it out, or -- what’s next? Mafia-hit-man it out? Drone it out?

They can call us stakeholders, but we’re lucky if we even get to hold a steak these days! [Or a nice expensive organic heritage beef-steak tomato, if we’re a veggie.] We have no stake, we’re manipulated and expendable. And if they have their way, the only stake we’ll have is one through the heart. And they’ll justify that by declaring that we’re vampires, sucking the blood of the state.

This political travesty is a direct outgrowth of the debased notion of employment. It shouldn’t be about how much someone can earn, but how much satisfaction people can hope to derive from what they choose to do. Not that there’s all that much choice lately.

The Con-Dems are pushing their poisonous interpretation of weaning people away from the nanny state, from a benefit mind-set, from a stay on your couch because all you can afford to eat is a potato, to a get-on-your-Tebbitcycle and peddle to a faraway feast.

And, it pains me to say it, but the unions are complicit in this. They rant like politicians, though usually in rougher parlance. But they’re all talking the same bollocks. Sorry chaps and comrades, dudes and guys and gals … but we are not going to infuse people with a spirit of unity by debasing them further into a meaningless life.

What are you worth? Feeling grateful to be behind a moving mechanical belt and bean-sorting? Kneeling in gratitude as you’re kitted out with a radiation suit so you can clean up a nuclear accident? Saying thank you as you don your industrial gloves to assure the bins get emptied? Hmm, doesn’t much sound like one of those L’Oreal ads. This is not about growth or jobs or those ill-defined phrases crafted to make people believe they’re making a contribution. It’s about keeping the power where it is, right in their piggy trotters. Which is probably too insulting to piggies.

All this crap about encouraging entrepreneurs can have only one result: another generation of exploited workers whose tasks have no real connection to their hopes and dreams.

First and foremost, self-worth needs a sense of self. Duh! That’s usually acquired at home and at an early age. If the only messages you and your parents and their parents ever had was how worthless you are, you will feel worthless. Your only sense of self will be as an adjunct to someone else, whether that’s a domestic partner or a worker or a disaffected voter.

What the unions should be promoting, at least in tandem with addressing any current work-related crisis – is a real alternative to being capitalist fodder. Unions – I challenge you to initiate discussion about some real alternative structural solutions to social problems by working together, by taking collective ownership of our lives and activities. Blue-sky it, baby. See what comes out. You might surprise yourselves, and in the process you might help the people you represent feel better about themselves. You just might empower them.

How long are we going to keep defining ourselves by the role we can play in providing self-worth to someone else? We are a species of highly intelligent and flexible people who’ve been able to adapt to conditions from the Poles to the Equator.

I can never quite accept those disaster, super-hero films where a powerful villain must be stopped before he destroys the world. If you’re such a megalomaniac that you smush everyone into mush – how do you think you’re going to live? Everyone’s annihilated and you chortle like thunder. To whom? For what? Is that what you’re worth? An empty lonely world you can’t even share?

We need to celebrate the concept of working together, so that it isn’t work at all. It’s just what we do, and it makes us feel good about ourselves. We needn’t exploit anyone or let anyone exploit us. We don’t have to roll over into the slime of a rotten world.

Because, as BBC4 and Mr Shakespeare know so well, Denmark ain’t the only rotten state.

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